Last week, the New York Times reported on a Trump administration memo from the Department of Health and Human Services that could legally ignore the existence of transgender people in the US. In the memo, the HHS defined gender as “a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” Many transgender and non-binary people claim that defining gender in this way is attempting to erase trans people from existence. Refinery29 has asked a mum who's active in PFLAG (the nation's first and largest organisation for LGBTQ+ people, their families, and allies) to share her thoughts on the memo, and how policies like this could affect her transgender daughter's life.
When I was asked to write this piece, I immediately said yes, not knowing exactly what to say, but driven by a fire in the pit of my stomach and the need to scream out. I have typed and deleted, typed and deleted, over and over for the last week, tongue tied because I am required now, in this moment, to say the unfathomable out loud: I live in a country whose leaders — and many others — want to erase my daughter from existence.
When my child was only 10 years old, we sat on the front porch of my home, where all of the important conversations happened, and she mustered up all the courage she had in her tiny body to say, “I am not a boy, I am a girl. I always have been. I have always known who I am and now you do too.” I wasn't the least bit shocked. While at that time I may not have had any real experience with transgender people, I always knew she was different (and in the best possible ways!). Finally at 10 years old, I saw her and heard her—and she blossomed. Bullying stopped, friendships were made, grades went up, and her self-esteem went through the roof. My quiet, withdrawn, lonely child was gone and was replaced with a child so full of life and light, it could blind you. Supported and loved by her friends, with teachers and others who have cared for her and fought for her, she is perfectly made and exactly who she was born to be.
When the news broke last week that this administration wants to “adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender” that “would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with,” many were surprised. I suppose I should have been, too. But the truth is that, as the mother of a transgender child, I have seen poor policies and legislation play out repeatedly in ways that are not only discriminatory, but life- threatening.
Earlier this month, my daughter was left out of an active shooter drill at her school because teachers had been told not to allow her in either the male or female locker rooms. While her peers gathered together quietly in the middle of the locker room, protected and prepared, my daughter was forced to sit vulnerable and unprotected in the gym, then alone in a hallway, near— but not inside — the locker rooms. When she came home, she stated the obvious: “If there had been an active shooter, I would have been the first to go.”
When she told me what happened, I was enraged, with that rage later turning to sadness. In that moment my daughter’s life was considered last. Worse, her physical safety was debated because nobody knew what to do with her, although as a transgender girl, she is just that: a girl.
I will fight so that my daughter, and kids like her, aren’t erased or diminished or harmed.
Since the incident happened, our community has shown more love and support than I could have ever imagined. A school board meeting was packed with signs and flags; neighbours spoke out against what had happened and in support of my daughter and other transgender youth across our county. Most surprising? After years of discrimination and rules that not only isolated my daughter but also could have ended her life in this most recent situation, an apology was made from the very school leaders who helped make those rules. This traumatic and devastating situation put a national spotlight on how transgender students are treated in our school system, and across the country. In our district, policies are now being reviewed. Conversations are happening. Progress, finally.
Then, mere days later, the memo.
So what now? What do school systems that want to do the right thing by transgender and gender-expansive youth do when our own President and his administration suggests policies that will erase my daughter and other kids like her? What happens when she is denied access to a job because there is no protection for transgender workers, or denied housing, or an education, or access to facilities and services when discrimination becomes legally permissible? This destructive policy would do nothing other than put an already-vulnerable community at further risk…or worse? Erase them entirely.
For almost 17 years I have been a mum: A working mum, then a stay-at-home mum, then a working mum again; a soccer mum at the fields every weekend; a concerned mum, worried about the day-to-day stuff like too much screen time and getting good grades; and I’m also a PFLAG mum, one of my most important roles advocating for, educating about, and supporting LGBTQ+ youth, especially my own daughter. And while this administration and others conspire to do all they can to dim her light, she still remains unafraid and empowered. So I will follow her lead. I will fight so that my daughter, and kids like her, aren’t erased or diminished or harmed. And I will ask you to join me by speaking out and letting transgender, non-binary, and intersex people know that you have their backs — and I will also ask you to join me in voting on November 6th (or earlier if you live in a place where early voting is an option) for leaders and legislation that support people like my daughter. Because she matters…and she will not be erased.